cover image Lost in Jersey City

Lost in Jersey City

Paula Sharp. HarperCollins Publishers, $20 (358pp) ISBN 978-0-06-016564-2

Uncertainty of characterization and plot direction undermines this otherwise witty and promising novel about a newly independent woman. Determined to dump her philandering second husband, Ida Terhune leaves Baton Rouge, La., on July 24, 1982, and bullheadedly aims her Chrysler New Yorker in the direction of Jersey City. After an adventurous trip that includes losing her trailer in a hurricane and putting up at the Playboy Hotel in Atlanta, Ida and her precocious children, nine-year-old Skeet and his younger sister Sherry, move in with her brassy best friend in a Jersey apartment building managed by a slum lord. Here, the book casts about to regain its initial momentum and almost succeeds after Ida accidentally hits and kills the slumlord's adult son with her behemoth automobile; the rest of the story focuses on a self-consciously wacky court trial that pits naive Ida against veterans of a corrupt system. Ida's beehive hairdo, polyester outfits and aggravatingly cautious ways make her seem old beyond her 38 years, and she frequently relies on her worldly friends to rescue her from trouble. Sharp ( The Woman Who Was Not All There ) forgoes giving Ida credibility in favor of making her a comic figure to advance the plot of what's meant to be a madcap story about culture shock. Thus, though the book has many humorous passages, much of its hilarity feels forced. (Sept.)